Music education, beginning as early as possible, has major benefits for learning. Not only will a child who receives a solid musical education be more likely to develop musical intelligence skills such as basic rhythm and pitch matching (being able to hear and repeat a note), but research shows strong connections between music education and other learned skills. You will find some links at the end of this post if you would like to know more!
Two of the major skills children must learn in order to thrive in the traditional Western school systems (and in many societies) are reading and writing. These two skills are inextricably linked, and the foundations for both are set very early on in life. In this post, we will be focusing primarily on writing, and then discussing how you can include music in the process of learning to write.
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Learning To Write: The Six Stages
Stage 1 - Scribbling: This stage often begins at around 15 months (note: every child develops at their own rate - all ages given are general guidelines). At this point, children begin to notice the cause-and-effect of markings being left by their movements as they push and pull a crayon across a surface. It is a sensory experience and they may have quite strong reactions - positive or negative, depending on their unique tolerance to new sensory input - to the materials (smells, textures, tastes) and to their creations. To begin with, the random markings are just that: random. However, the child is developing their thinking skills and fine motor skills as they experiment!
Stage 2 - Controlled scribbling: This stage occurs from around 2-years-old. The child soon begins to learn that they can control their movements in order to control what appears on the paper. They learn how to change the way they grip the crayon, how to control the amount of pressure they are using, and will begin experimenting with different kinds of movements, and forms (vertical and horizontal lines, curves and circles, dots...).
Stage 3 - Forms and shapes: This stage occurs from around 2.5-years-old. At this stage, the child has learned that they can control their movements in order to create and repeat specific and more complex shapes and patterns. They will have also recognised that writing is not just random scribbles, but also made up of specific shapes and patterns which have meaning. They will begin to "write" (using elements and patterns that they may have noticed when looking at letters and words), and will often be very happy to explain to you what they wrote!
Stage 4 - Letters: This stage occurs from around 3-years-old. It is important for children to have good pre-writing skills before they begin focusing on correct letter formation. These include: Being able to draw basic shapes (vertical and horizontal lines, circles, squares, diagonal lines), having adequate finger and hand muscle strength (good fine motor skill development), having control over posture and pencil grip, being aware of the relationship between their movements and their drawing, being able to trace, copy, and draw specific forms and patterns, being able to identify letters. There are various systems of handwriting which may be used when teaching letters, but the most important thing is that the system is consistent. It is a good idea to focus on lower-case letters.
Stage 5 - Words and spaces: This stage occurs from around 4-years-old. Once children are able to form letters, they may begin to form words. A good starting point is the child's name. After this, it is a good idea to use words that include the sound-letter relationships your child has learned so far (for example: m=mmmm, n=nnnn, or more advanced sounds like "sh" and "br"). They can then focus on learning to write and spell "high frequency" words - words which occur often in day-to-day writing ("the", "but", "what"). As the progress to writing a series of words in order to create a sentence, they need to remember to have a space between words. They can do this by placing their finger at the end of a word and beginning to write the next word on the other side of their finger, or by using an object such as a popsicle stick (which they can decorate) instead of their finger.
Stage 6 - Writing: This stage occurs from around 4.5-years-old. At this point, the child should have a good knowledge of lower-case letters and be able to sound out and write a series of words, with spaces between the words. They may now focus on upper-case letters, and learn to use them at the beginning of a sentence and for people's names. They should also be learning to use full-stops, and be introduced to other forms of punctuation, such as question marks, exclamation marks, and commas. Your child is now in the early stages of being capable of communication through writing, and will continue to improve as they continue on their learning journey!
At each stage of learning to write, there are different skills that need to be developed and extended. Twinkl (www.twinkl.com) have kindly given us permission to share about some of their resources. There are free and paid resources on their site, not only for handwriting, but for all kinds of skills and learning for children.
Learning To Write: The Six Skills
Skill 1 - Pencil control: In the scribbling stages, all your child will need are writing devices and a sheet of paper. However, as they gain control over their movements, they will also be learning to not only create forms on their own, but also to trace and copy. This collection of pencil control worksheets will get your child practising some simple; complex, and repeated shapes and patterns, such as lines, circles, zig-zags, and arches: https://www.twinkl.com/resource/t-l-154-pencil-control-worksheets
Skill 2 - Letter formation (lowercase): At Sound Garden, we're fans of the Kingston cursive handwriting, where each letter begins with a stroke from the left, and where letter formations strike a good balance between the formations for different varieties of printing and cursive. The child first learns how to write each letter individually (not joined). These flashcards will teach your child the exact elements they need to use in order to create each letter: https://www.twinkl.com/resource/t-l-8814-continuous-cursive-alphabet-letter-shapes-with-descriptions-flashcards.
Skill 3 - Letter joining (lower-case words): Once your child can write letters individually, they can begin to join them together to create words. They can practice writing the first 100 "high frequency" English-language words with this resource: https://www.twinkl.com/resource/first-100-high-frequency-words-handwriting-activity-sheets-t-l-9435. Note: Sometimes practising letter and word formation by tracing shapes into sand, painting them onto canvas, or by aligning small objects can be useful, rather than writing directly onto paper.
Skill 4 - Letter formation (uppercase): Once your child is confident with writing and joining lower-case letters, they can begin focusing on upper-case letters. Note: They can definitely learn at least the capital letter needed for the beginning of their name while they are still learning to join lower-case letters! They should first learn how to write each upper-case letter, and then begin writing words which integrate both upper- and lower-case letters. This resource shows upper- and lower-case letters side-by-side: https://www.twinkl.com/resource/t-l-5931-cursive-alphabet-letter-formation-poster-upper-and-lower-case.
Skill 5 - Word and sentence formation (words with both upper- and lower-cases): At this point, your child can start integrating both upper- and lower-case letters in their writing. Twinkl has a range of exercises to practice writing simple sentences with both letter types. You can find one here on the topic of spring: https://www.twinkl.com/resource/eyfs-ks1-the-journey-to-continuous-cursive-spring-handwriting-practice-activity-t-e-2549984. You can also write your own sentences for your child to copy.
Skill 6 - Writing: Once your child is confident with both letter formation and the sounds the letters make both alone and when combined, they can begin writing their own sentences freely. It is not necessary for the child to be able to spell 100% correctly, but the logic behind why they chose certain letters and groups of letters should be clear. It is often useful for early writers to use lined paper to help keep their writing consistent. You can find lined paper here: https://www.twinkl.com/resource/au-l-53213-year-1-handwriting-lines-sheets.
Now that we know how children learn to write, how can we integrate classical music into the learning to write process? We have a few suggestions:
Learning an instrument. By learning to play an instrument, children learn fine and gross motor skills (to different extents, depending on the instrument), the relationship between movement and the effects on sound, listening and attention skills, evaluation and intellectual skills, and much more! Your child could also use musical cues to create a relationship between letter and blended letter sounds and syllables. For example, each sound of "h-a-t" could be linked to a different sound on a musical instrument.
Background music. Having classical music as background music has long been thought to help with focus. However, not all classical music is created equal - some works may be calming, others may be energising, and others may bring out an array of different emotions and responses. Some works are more simple in structure, while others are more complex. Some works are very fast, others are slower. Being aware of different types of classical music works may help you to choose the complexity and vibe that may most benefit your child and the activity they are undertaking. For example, if they are finding objects in nature with which to form letters, they may benefit from hearing some energetic music to keep them motivated. If they are trying to concentrate on using their fine motor skills for more detailed tasks, they may benefit from calm and/or slower-paced music.
Writing about music. Your child may like to learn how to write words related to music, such as the names of musical instruments, composers or performers, or music theory vocabulary (clef, note, staff). As your child learns to form sentences, they may like to learn about a particular piece of music and to write about how it sounds, how it makes them feel, or what it makes them think about.
Learning to write...music! Music is notated using its own system of symbols in order to communicate meaning to the "reader" (the musician who is playing or studying the musical score). Western classical music has its own notation system, and other classical music from different cultures have their own systems, too, appropriate to the particular instruments and performance techniques. Just like learning any other language, music can be learned alongside one or more other languages, and learning more than one language has many benefits! By learning to read and write music, your child will also learn how to communicate via music - which may sometimes be preferable to communicating via words! Many famous composers began composing at a young age.
General musical immersion and listening. The more music is a part of your child's life, the more benefits there are to their learning and development. The reason why classical music is often placed in advance of other genres of music for this is because of the complexity it often contains, which triggers brain responses in different ways. Music is full of patterns and systems, and our bodies and minds react to the things we are hearing, both consciously and subconsciously.
At what stage on their learning-to-write journey is your child? Have you used classical music as part of the learning progress? Feel free to share your stories and images with us!
Bradford, Helen & Wyse, Dominic. (2013). Writing and writers: the perceptions of young children and their parents. Early Years: Journal of International Research and Development. 33. 10.1080/09575146.2012.744957.
Cynthia A. Briggs, A Model for Understanding Musical Development, Music Therapy, Volume 10, Issue 1, 1991, Pages 1–21, https://doi.org/10.1093/mt/10.1.1
Kellogg, Ronald. (2008). Training writing skills: A cognitive development perspective. Journal of Writing Research. 1. 10.17239/jowr-2008.01.01.1.
Levinowitz, Lili M. The importance of music in early childhood. Music Educators Journal; Reston Vol. 86, Iss. 1, (Jul 1999): 17.
Swant, Shelby, "Preschool Writing Instruction: Modeling the Writing Stages" (2016). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 10649. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/etd/10649
Young S. Early childhood music education research: An overview. Research Studies in Music Education. 2016;38(1):9-21. doi:10.1177/1321103X16640106